Mutator reviewed by Maff Evans

It sounds like something from a 60s' sci-fi flick, it looks like something from a 60s' sci-fi flick and, by God, it sure seems like Maff Evans has been in the warp chamber again...

 FAT SOUNDS HAVE made a come back, just in case you hadn't noticed. Analogue synths have been back in vogue so long the backlash has started and a synth that can sound like loads of old classics is being touted as the best synth for donkey's clichés. Anyone who can recognise one end of a Moog from a bag of spanners will know that it's the richness of resonant analogue filters that does the fattening, so it's not surprising that this hunk of retro-looking metal is a veritable force-feeding to weedy digital presets.

 Just plugging the Mutator in won't instantly yield stunning sweeps and gut-quaking basses, though you'll need to familiarise yourself with the extremely tactile control panel before you become a techno god. For a start, you'll need to get the hang of the envelope triggering system or otherwise everything will just come out as a muddy blur. The attack of a bass or the slow build of a pad is inherent to the construction of a good sound, and so you can't just leave the Mutator to its own devices. To make things work, plugging in an external control source or using the optional MIDI input retro-fit is a must. With these in place, you can accurately shape the way a sound is played by using the 'envelope follower', which takes the control signal and uses it to shape an envelope which can then be passed on to the filter section.

Ready to rumble
 The filter section is very simple, consisting of just three knobs: cut-off, resonance and envelope sweep (which sets the amount that the envelope raises or lowers the cut-off point). You can also use the four- shape LFO. This is a complex little beast – as well as controlling the depth, shape and speed, you can link the LFOs of both channels together (with one being the reverse of the other if you wish) and use it to control the filter, VCA or both. The trigger input can also re-sync the LFO timing, saving hours of minute knob adjustment

 

 The results aren't too predictable, however, even when using LFO sync and MIDI control. The Mutator often seems to have a life of its own when the envelope squelches and the resonance whines. Occasionally, this produces some cracking results, especially when using both channels to treat detuned longwaves – fat city! Mind you, cranking the resonance and cut-off knobs doesn't usually give the big sweeping howl you’d expect from a decent filter. Jacking the resonance knob in particular can cause enough feedback-type screeching to send the nastiest of rottweillers yelping for cover

 Despite a few minutes of head scratching, yelps of pain and fingers in ears, the Mutator isn't half bad. It's not fair to call it a piece of outboard gear, as it's actually a kind of retro-fit for sound sources...Well, that and the fact that it only produces one type of effect. The inclusion of complex LFO features and two independent channels makes the Mutator one of the most character-loaded pieces of sound-processing gear I've ever used. Granted, having such character will mean you have arguments (just like with a mate), but when it behaves it sounds like nothing on Earth. Don't rush out and buy one right now – spend some time with one to see if it’s the kind of character you'd want to befriend. It's expensive, but there aren't many effectors which depend so much on personal taste. OK, it's less like meeting an antagonistic friend, more like buying a pet.

 Come to think of it, I'm sure this thing is alive. I haven't seen the cat for a few days, at any rate. f M

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